Leverett, Massachusetts Approves Broadband Funding

We brought you news of Leverett, Massachusetts and their decision this spring to pursue a municipal fiber optic network. In April, voters approved a measure to develop the initiative, and this past weekend took the last step toward building the network. The town of 1,851, voted to raise their taxes to pay for a fiber-to-the-home network. The result was a resounding 462 for and 90 against.

The GazetteNET.com covered the story:

"We're expecting everyone in Leverett to have access to this network by 2014," said Peter d'Errico, a member of the town's Select Board and a leading supporter of the municipal fiber-optic system."

"This was clearly a mandate to proceed," said d'Errico. "There was vigorous discussion at every stage of the process and it's a sign that community is ready to take charge of its own services."

The Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion override ended in an 83.5% vote to support the project. The result satisfies the 2/3 majority requirement for a planned tax increase, as required by state law.

A little more than 39% of the town's eligible voters cast ballots. According to the assistant town clerk, D'Ann Kelty who monitors voter activity, the turn out was large for a single issue election.

The funding strategy is a 20-year bond measure and is expected to increase property taxes by 6%. Supporters note that a 6% hike in property taxes is less than what households will save in telephone and internet bills. They will be paying less for something far better than they now receive. According to residents, telephone service has been spotty for years, due to old copper wires that have not been replaced by providers. In a recent GazetteNET article before the vote:

"Beginning in 2009 or so, high speed providers decided that they weren't going to upgrade their landline cables in rural areas," said Richard Nathhorst, a member of the Broadband Committee and one of the drafters of the proposal. Though the state issued a court order last year to Verizon Telecommunications, the owner of the current lines, to improve service to rural areas, dissatisfaction remained high in town over frequent service outages and insufficient bandwidth access for many residents.

"We can't rely on private companies to support cutting-edge digital access in sparsely populated areas like ours," said Peter d'Errico.

A private company will install and run the network, which will belong to the town.  Some homes still use dial-up, others have unreliable satellite, and some have no access at all. Each home in Leverett will be connected to the ftth network.

"Right now, we're paying for services and maintenance that we aren't getting from the private sector," [d'Errico] said. "Municipal networks aren't a new thing. This is a well-known strategy that we're using to get our costs down, even by the conservative estimate that we used in the proposal."

"We think of the Internet as a consumer device, but in fact it adds so much value as a professional tool and a creative tool as well," said Peter d'Errico. "There are a lot of people in Leverett who move information or market their artwork for a living, and they need this resource available to them. We're going to be able to attract them and keep them here."